Friday, May 25, 2007

Atheist & the Crucifix

The Atheist and the Crucifix by Menachem Wecker (

I've thought about atheism and the arts from time to time. This author discusses visual art only, and only Christian art, with one passing reference to the art of the other two big monotheisms. His question is, how do atheists deal with religious art, not what kind of art do they themselves create. The responses are various, and the author doesn't delve into the matter too deeply.

Of the interviewees, Richard McBee doubts the ability of atheists to create convincing religious art, but concedes it takes more than religious belief to generate religious art, and more interestingly,
McBee believes atheists should be able to appreciate religious art better than believers, since they do not necessarily seek confirmation of existing beliefs, but they also must do their research.
I haven't attempted to apply this principle to the visual arts, but I can confirm it with respect to literature. Two of my favorite authors, Blake and Melville, attract both atheists and believers, and invariably the religious aficionados are shallow and stupid. I find the same goes with the philosopher Spinoza. Perhaps it is no coincidence that all of three were heretics and would attract such a variety of devotees.

I myself can handle religious art that expresses the kind of things I want to express. I love the intensity of William Blake, which I appreciated even more when I saw the last major North American exhibit at the Met in New York. I was first acquainted as a teenager with Blake as a poet, and he has remained my lifelong favorite poet. But then he was a heretic and revolutionary.

As for Christian art, what spoils those Renaissance masterpieces for me are the boring themes of baby Jesus at the breast, and of course that awful crucifixion stuff. Get a life, people! I find Christ on the cross as repellent as does black atheist Reginald V. Finley Sr., who said: “How would we feel today if I wore a miniature bust of JFK around my neck with two bullet holes in his head?”

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